Published Date: March 18, 2021 – Last Update: January 12, 2023
Modern soccer originated from England in the mid 19th century. But, previous versions of the ball game existed over 2000 years ago.
History is proof that games similar to soccer, which involved a ball and players, happened very long ago. The Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Americans, among others, played games similar to soccer. The earlier form of soccer had no rules. The Laws of the Game arrived in the 19th century.
This article will look at the history and evolution of the soccer game throughout the years.
What Is Soccer?
Before we dive into the history of soccer, let us take a quick look at the game itself.
Soccer is a sports game where two teams of 11 players compete against each other. The team scoring the most goals is declared the winner. The result is a draw if both sides score an equal number of goals.
Soccer players are allowed to use any body part while playing except their arms. Only the goalkeeper can handle the ball with their arms. The goalkeeper can do so exclusively within the penalty box.
Before 1000 AD – Ancient Origins Of Soccer
FIFA outlines in great depth the origins of soccer during the reign of the legendary Yellow Emperor Huang-Ti.
One could find professional jugglers in China more than 2000 years ago. The jugglers used their hands and body more than their heads and feet to keep the ball in motion.
Cuju, which translates as “to kick a ball,” is the soccer-like game’s name.
Cuju athletes played either individually or as a team. Stuffing animal hair inside sewn leather skin is the process used to make the Ju (ball).
Alternatively, they would use an animal bladder instead of hair inside the sewn leather skin to make Ju (balls).
Researchers uncovered that Cuju fields symbolize the earth, and the Ju ball denotes a heavenly body during the Wei dynasty (ad 220–65). Cuju, therefore, assumed religious significance.
Also, available proof shows a referee-like person presiding over games.
Cuju’s militaristic role is an intriguing fact, benefiting the body and mind of soldiers through training. The soldiers also boosted their relaxation and morale levels from this fascinating game.
Cuju societies formed during the Tang period (618–907) later saw teams competing against other teams using two goals and a set number of players. The game became urbanized during the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1126).
As cities expanded, rulers laid fixed pitches and Cuju games enriched special occasions like Emperors’ birthday celebrations.
Organizers assembled professional teams consisting of both males and females at the imperial palace. As expected, the general population replicated these practices, and the popularity of Cuju spread rapidly throughout China.
1840 The Early Laws Of The Game: Cambridge University And The Sheffield Clubs
Cambridge University students in England attempted to set up standard soccer rules in the late 1840s. The students implemented the rules to facilitate the arrangement of games against teams from other universities.
Sheffield clubs also introduced separate soccer rules in 1857, which the soccer community did not embrace.
So, soccer players continued to play with different rules in different communities. Eventually, in 1863, this changed when the football association (The FA) unified the rules.
1855 The History Of The Ball (Soccer)
Charles Goodyear is an American chemist best known for his invention with regards to the manufacturing of rubber. He made the first vulcanized rubber ball in 1855.
It is regarded as the first step toward having a standardized size and shape for soccer balls.
1855 Bramall Lane
Bramall Lane, Sheffield United’s home ground, is the first stadium in the world to host a soccer match.
Opened on April 30, 1855, the facility is still very much in use today. It was used exclusively for cricket in its first seven years.
The first match took place at the soccer ground on December 29, 1862. Sheffield FC took on Hallam FC, which ended 0-0.
1857 Sheffield FC
FIFA recognizes Sheffield FC as the oldest existing soccer club worldwide.
Sheffield is considered the birthplace of modern soccer as two Sheffield Cricket Club members, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest, started the Sheffield Football Club.
On October 24, 1857, the club’s inaugural meeting took place. The venue was the Parkfield House in the suburb of Highfield in Sheffield.
Sheffield FC played games among club members until the formation of another Sheffield club, Hallam FC, in 1860. The teams played according to the Sheffield Rules agreed to in 1858 and published in 1859.
On November 30, 1863, Sheffield FC joined the Football Association but did not start using FA rules until 1878.
1859 Lima Cricket And Football Club (Lima CFC)
Several sources, including The Sportster, indicate that Lima Cricket and Football Club (Lima CFC) is the oldest club outside Europe.
English immigrants formed the Peru-based club back in 1859.
1862 New Version Of The Soccer Ball
Richard Lindon, a famous leatherworker from England, created the next version of a soccer in 1862.
He designed an inflatable rubber bladder. The ball was much lighter than the rubber ball by Goodyear, which retained its shape better.
1863 The Creation Of The Football Association (The FA)
London based club Barnes captain Ebenezer Cobb Morley called a meeting on October 26, 1863. The meeting took place at the Freemason’s Tavern in Great Queen Street, London.
Representatives from eleven soccer clubs turned up. Morley planned to set a code of rules for the regulation of the game.
The English Football Association (The FA), established in 1863, gave rise to modern soccer. Arthur Pember was named president.
Barnes and Richmond were the first soccer clubs to play a match using the new FA rules. They played the game on December 19, 1863. The game went smoothly as both teams knew what to expect. The rules were a success.
1867 The Youdan Cup
The FA Cup is one of the first cup competitions, but it is not the oldest globally. The honor goes to The Youdan Cup, a tournament played with Sheffield rules in England in 1867.
The final between Hallam FC and Norfolk FC was played at Bramall Lane on March 5, 1867, and attracted 3,000 spectators. Hallam FC emerged winners.
1867 Queen’s Park FC
Scottish club Queen’s Park FC, founded in 1867, is the oldest soccer club outside of England and Wales. It was not easy to find a suitable name for the club. After several propositions, a voting system decided the outcome, and the club became Queen’s Park.
1869 saw the introduction of goal-kicks. It is a kick given when the entire ball crosses over the goal line beside the goal, and no goal is scored.
It must also have had contact with a player of the attacking team.
1870 The First International Matches (Unofficial Game)
The visionary FA secretary Alcock had another masterstroke when he proposed an international game between England and Scotland.
He wrote to The Glasgow Herald advising that the game would go underway on November 19, 1870, at the Oval. It was an unofficial game, and the players representing both countries lived in London. England won by scoring a single goal.
1871 The FA Cup
The FA Cup, a knockout competition proposed by Charles Alcock, is immersed in history and tradition. The charm of the FA Cup is the possibility of one of the soccer juggernauts getting beaten by a much smaller team in England.
A loss in this competition would result in the losing team being knocked out from the competition until its resumption the next season.
The love affair of fans with the FA Cup began with the first hosting in 1871. Twelve teams entered, and Wanderers claimed the first-ever FA Cup trophy.
1872 The First Official International Match
The first official international match took place 31 years before the formation of FIFA, between England and Scotland.
In the absence of a Scottish FA, which was yet to have formed, Queen’s Park club agreed to organize the match.
Four thousand fans turned up to Hamilton Crescent on November 30, 1872, to watch the 0-0 draw.
Popular magazine; Bell’s Life described the game as “one of the jolliest, one of the most spirited, and most pleasant matches ever played according to Association rules.”
1872 The Regulations For Soccer Balls
In 1872, the English Football Association provided weight and size regulations for soccer balls to set a similar standard for all players.
The requirements called for a spherical ball with a circumference of 27 to 28 inches and a weight of 13-15oz. The Law of the Game required it also to have an “outer casing of leather or other approved materials.”
The FA regulations lead to leather balls’ mass production, but they became plagued by durability and water absorption issues.
1872 The Introduction Of Corner Kicks
It is a kick given when the entire ball crosses over the goal line, and no goal got scored. A defending team player must touch the ball before it goes out of play for a corner kick to stand.
1886 The International Football Association Board (IFAB)
IFAB emerged after the first International match between Scotland and England in 1872.
Interestingly, after that match, the necessity of standard rules became evident to ground the sport internationally.
The IFAB’s first meeting happened in London on June 2, 1886. Two representatives from each soccer association were granted access to the event. They were from the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh associations.
Eventually, The IFAB was recognized as the guardian of the unified Laws of the Game. Their role involved preserving, monitoring, studying, and amending soccer rules. As a result, to this day, the Laws Of The Game are amenable only by The IFAB.
1887 First Record of Soccer in Spain
In 1873, British investors purchased the Tinto mines in Huelva following the Spanish state’s financial difficulties. As a result, more British workers landed in Spain.
During the year 1887, following a two-day treat for workers, several games happened. Soccer got played on that day as per Captain W.F. Adams notes.
1888 The English Soccer League
The FA Cup competition’s success acted as a catalyst as County and District Associations across England also mobilized and hosted cup competitions. Between 1875 and 1885, hundreds of new soccer clubs got formed.
A significant split occurred between clubs in the North of England and those in Southern England.
The clubs in the North were pleased with the revenues earned from the cup competitions. They believed it was right to pay players. However, the clubs in the South believed soccer players should remain amateurs. They thought they should play for the pride and the thrill of the game.
The conflict forced the FA to legalize professionalism officially in 1885. William McGregor, an Aston Villa FC representative on the FA committee, received credit for influencing the soccer league’s creation.
McGregor admitted that regular fixtures were required. He also suggested the participation of top clubs around England.
To make things happen, he eventually wrote to the teams he thought would fit into the system. His proposition of a league format with 12 soccer clubs became a reality. The approval came after two meetings in 1888 with the different club representatives. The games followed the FA rules.
1891 Penalty Kicks
The penalty kick, then known as the ‘kick of death,’ did not exist in the game until 1891.
The 1891 rules stated that a penalty kick is allowed anywhere along the 12-yard line rather than from a mark.
Penalty kicks are awarded based on different scenarios. If the defending team commits a foul inside the 18-yeard box, a penalty kick is an outcome. The same applies if the defending team handles the ball with his hand inside the penalty box.
Only the defending team goalkeeper is allowed to hold the ball with his hands inside the 18-yard box.
1891 The Introduction Of Referees
In 1891, IFAB introduced referees. They acted as a single authority figure. They had the power to send players off and award penalty kicks and free kicks without anyone’s influence.
Initially, two’ referees,’ one of whom each of the playing teams could appeal to officiated games. Referees officiated games by the time the first FA Cup and international fixture took place, and their appeals caused lengthy delays.
Initially, referees were assigned the task of timekeeping. They usually stood on the touchline. Players referred to the referee when the two failed to decide independently. The two then became linesmen, nowadays, called assistant referees.
1891 Center Mark For The Kick-Off
IFAB implemented center circle field markings in 1891. The markings became necessary to keep players ten yards from the pitch center at kick-off.
1892 Goodison Park
The first stadium specifically built for soccer in England is Goodison Park, home to Everton FC. It officially opened on August 24, 1892. It cost £8,090 to build.
The facility consisted of two uncovered stands, each to accommodate 4,000 people, and a covered stand to accommodate 3,000 people.
Goodison Park hosted the FA Cup final between Notts County and Bolton Wanderers in 1894, with 37,000 spectators attending the match.
1897 90 Minutes Game Duration And Number Of Players
Before 1897, each team had more than 11 players.
1902 Goal Area, Penalty Area, And Penalty Mark
In 1902, IFAB decided players must take penalty kicks in an area 18 yards from the goal line and 44 yards wide. This change specified the ‘penalty area’ and penalty mark.
The ‘six-yard box’ (goal area), sized 6 yards long and 20 yards wide, replaced the goal mouth’s semicircle. It would take another 35 years for the edge of the penalty area to assume the now-familiar D-shape.
1904 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)
On May 21, 1904, FIFA came into existence. The seven national associations that helped establish FIFA were Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
The main objective was to promote Association Football. Besides, FIFA would have control over every type of association football.
The implementation of FIFA would help to foster a friendly relation at every level. Promoting soccer matches at every level would help achieve that result.
The growing number of international games played in the early 20th century required a governing body like FIFA for regulation. The seven founders gathered in Paris to determine the game’s future.
With over 150 million registered soccer players, 10 million are women athletes, soccer is one of history’s most popular sports. Billions of fans watch the game in stadiums and on television.
FIFA’s first president, Robert Guerin, presided over the organization from 1904 to 1906. The FIFA president list also includes names like Jules Rimet, for 33 years from 1921 to 1954.
In 1913, the Integration of FIFA and IFAB got completed, and FIFA joined The IFAB as a full member. The newly restructured body afforded FIFA the same voting power as the original four associations combined.
To date, FIFA recognizes six confederations worldwide. They are the Asian Football Association (AFC), the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL), the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC), and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
Besides, FIFA acknowledges 211 national associations and their men’s national teams and 129 women’s national teams.
1904 The ÉvenceCoppée Trophy
FIFA recognized the match between Belgium and France in Brussels on May 1, 1904, as the first official international match.
The organizers of this one-off game dubbed it; the ÉvenceCoppée Trophy. The incident-packed fixture took place at the Stade du Vivierd’Oie (“Goose Pond Stadium”) in Uccle, Belgium, and it ended in a 3–3 draw.
1908 The Olympics Tournament
The first official Olympic Soccer Tournament happened in London in 1908. Previous attempts for the competition to happen were unsuccessful. The tries came about in Athens (1896), Paris (1900), and St. Louis (1904).
A total of eight teams participated in the tournament. France had two representatives. Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Great Britain, Hungary and Bohemia each had one representative.
France and the Netherlands gained automatic qualification to the semi-finals, following Hungary and Bohemia’s abandonment. Great Britain were the winners of the contest defeating Denmark by 2-0.
1905 Goalkeepers And The Penalty Kicks
The updated Laws Of The Game required goalkeepers to stay on the goal line until the penalty kick occurred. As per the Laws in 1912, goalkeepers were disallowed from handling the ball outside the penalty area.
Earlier, they were allowed to do the same within their half.
1907 The Offside Rule
Offside rules were initially applicable anywhere on the pitch. After amendments to the regulations, offside became relevant to only players caught in their opponent half.
A player is said to be in an offside position if any body part except for the hand and arms is closer to the opponents’ goal line than the ball and the second-last opponent.
1909 Goalkeepers And Their Jersey
Goalkeepers previously wore caps, as this was the only feature that would differentiate them from other players. In 1909, goalkeepers started wearing different colour jerseys.
The introduction of squad numbers was mainly to differentiate players. Goalkeepers would generally wear the number 1 shirt. But, no rule says this is compulsory as many past players have also worn this number.
In 1921, the IFAB decided that goalkeepers jersey should be yellow during an international soccer match.
1913 Free Kicks
In 1913, the IFAB introduced a law governing free-kicks. It states that opponents must remain at least 10 yards from the ball while a free-kick occurs.
This discipline has helped produce expert free-kick players like Juninho Pernambucano, David Beckham, Sinisa Mihajhlovic, Zico, and Alessandro Del Piero.
1921 The American Soccer League
In 1921, the first America Soccer League (ASL) came into existence. Four different professional soccer sports league were using the same name. As a result, much debate occurred.
ASL rapid growth in popularity meant that the National Soccer League became pressurized. Consequently, after much dispute, the league got scrapped in 1933.
1924 The Corner Kicks
From 1924 onwards, IFAB authorized that goals scored directly from a corner kick must stand. This ruling prevented many spectacular goals scored directly from corner kicks from being ruled out.
1925 The Offside Trap
In 1925s, the IFAB agreed that a player could not be offside from a throw-in. Another change to the offside law stated that a player is not offside if two (instead of three) opponents are nearer to the player than the goal line—a tough one for the referees back then.
1929 The Italian National League (Serie A)
The Italian National League (Seria A), also known as the scudetto (small shield), primarily started in 1898. The structure was different from the existing Serie A. Regional groups competed against each other from 1898 – 1922.
During the 1929-1930 season campaign, the Serie A we know of today got formed. The winner of the first campaign was Internazionale.
Juventus remains the most decorated team to-date with 36 league titles. AC Milan and Internazionale both have 18 league titles.
1930 The FIFA World Cup
The most popular soccer competition on the planet is the FIFA World Cup. Billions of soccer fans follow the tournament worldwide.
Driven by Jules Rimet, few French soccer executives came up with the idea to gather the world’s greatest national teams in a single competition.
Although unofficial pre-FIFA World Cups existed back in the 1800s, the first official World Cup happened in Uruguay in 1930. The decision to choose Uruguay as the host came as they previously won the world soccer champions twice. Many teams did not welcome the decision.
Teams across Europe complained about the cost of travel and the distance. As a result, the tournament had a total of 13 participants.
The teams that took part in the inaugural FIFA World Cup competitions were France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Romania, Argentina, the US, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, and hosts Uruguay.
The tournament turned out to be a success. After defeating Argentina 4-2 in the finals, Uruguay was crowned world champions.
The FIFA World Cup takes place every four years. Since its creation in 1930, 17 world cup tournaments have taken place. Of the 17, only seven different nations have come out winners.
1929 The Formation of the Spanish National Soccer League (La Liga)
José María Acha proposed creating a national league in 1928. The man was a director at Getxo, a Spanish soccer team.
Due to the proposal’s complexity, it took the project nearly one year to come to life. The decision made was such that the Primera Division would consist of 10 teams.
Following the league formation in 1929, the criteria used for the teams’ selection were as follows.
The first six teams were previous Copa del Rey winners. Three teams that were runners up of the Copa del Rey also received tickets to the Primera Division. A knockout competition decided on the last ticket. It resulted in a ten teams league formation.
Six (6) teams that had won the Copa del Rey were:
The three (3) runner-up teams were:
- Athletico Madrid
The winner of the knockout competition was:
- Racing de Santander
The first season had no shortage of excitement, but you might not be too surprised to learn that; FC Barcelona won the league title on the final day despite Real Madrid FC dominating for most of the season.
Paco Bienzobas of Real Sociedad became the leading goal scorer with 17 goals from 18 games. Alfonso Olaso of Athletico Madrid scored the first goal of the competition as an own goal.
Despite Barcelona lifting the first league trophy in the opening season, Athletic Club dominated the first ten years. They won 4 titles from 1930 to 1940.
1932 The French National League – Ligue Nationale (Ligue 1)
Amateur soccer players Georges Bayrou, Emmanuel Gambardella, and Gabriel Hanot founded the first professional soccer league in France in 1932. The French governing bodies for soccer named the league; Ligue Nationale.
The French Football Federation restricted the number of teams to 20. They then divided the teams into two groups of 10.
- 1. Olympique Lillois Lille
- 2. Olympique Marseille
- 3. OGC Nice
- 4. SC Nimes
- 5. Racing Club de France
- 6. FC Sète
- 7. Club Francais Paris
- 8. FC Mulhouse
- 9. Hyères FC
- 10. Excelsior Roubaix (Ligue 1 1932/1933, 2021)
- 1. AS Cannes
- 2. Stade Rennes
- 3. FC Antibes
- 4. CA Paris (old)
- 5. Stade Olympique Montpelliérain
- 6. SC Fives Lille
- 7. FC Sochaux
- 8. Red Star Olympique
- 9. FC Metz
- 10. OlympiqueAlès (Ligue 1 1932/1933, 2021)
The French administrators agreed to a champion selection format featuring a playoff match. The winners of both groups would then play in a winner takes all final.
Olympique Lillois of Lille won the final match. They defeated AS Cannes in the Ligue Nationale’s final (Ligue 1 1932/1933, 2021) to write their name in history as the first champion of the French professional league.
1937 Field Marking (The D)
The addition of the D in 1937, an arc of a radius of 9.15 m (10 yards) from the penalty mark, stands as the final on-field marking. Only the penalty taker can enter the D during penalty kicks.
The permanent markings on a soccer pitch have remained unchanged since 1937.
1937 The IFAB Re-Writes the Laws of the Game
A member of the IFAB, Stanley Rous in 1937, performed a revision of the Laws Of The Game, turning them into a more compact and transparent set of rules.
The following year, the IFAB approved Rous’ proposals presented in the form of the 17 Laws; they are used to this day. Rous amended the rules so well that not until 1997 did they revise the Laws again.
In 1958, the IFAB introduced substitutions for an injured player. Before the rule change, teams could make only two substitutions – one for an injured goalkeeper and one other player.
As a result, players missing out on the starting 11 had little chance of getting into the game.
1967 Amendments Of The Substitution Rules
The IFAB rule change in 1967 allowed both teams to replace any player. They also removed the rule requiring injury before a player is allowed to be substituted. This change heralded the era of tactical substitutions.
1970 Evolution Of The Soccer Ball
Architect R. Buckminster Fuller created the iconic soccer ball during the era of synthetic material. Nicknamed the Buckyball, it made an unforgettable debut at the thrilling 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.
The latter used 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal pieces stitched together to form a sphere. Buckminster’s ball though since surpassed by better technology, revolutionized control, accuracy, and durability. It is still manufactured and used today.
1970 Red And Yellow cards
First used at the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, red and yellow cards are recent additions to soccer. The modern soccer player cannot imagine playing professionally without yellow and red cards in this era of professional fouls.
1980 The Goal Kick
In 1980, the IFAB implemented the opposition team players’ requirement to stay outside the penalty area until the ball has left the penalty area. This rule allowed the team to possess an adequate opportunity to clear the ball without interference.
1981 Sending Off
The IFAB provided clear guidelines regarding sending off in 1981.
A player gets sent off the field of play if the referee believes:
- The players has committed a severe foul resulting in a player injury or has acted violently;
- Uses foul or abusive language;
- A player continues to play harshly after having been booked for a foul or any other offence.
In 1987, the IFAB addressed time-wasting issues. They introduced the added-time. The allocated time would compensate for time lost during substitution, injury, and players’ transport off the field.
The referee is the one who decides on the amount of time to add.
Tactics used during the 1990 FIFA World Cup indicated the necessity for further modifications.
After 1992, goalkeepers could no longer touch the ball with hands-on on any occasion when a team-mate deliberately kicked the ball to their goalkeeper.
In circumstances where it happens, the opposing team gets awarded an indirect free-kick at the position where the infringement occurred.
1992 The English Premier League (EPL)
The Premier League, often referred to as the English Premier League (EPL), was founded on February 20, 1992, as the FA Premier League. The decision came as the Serie A and La Liga produced a high number of attendees and revenues.
Competing with such crowds became impossible for the English Soccer League. Besides, local talents also moved abroad in numbers.
The introduction of a new league meant a higher revenue. Besides, television broadcasting rights and sponsorship deals injected more money into the game. It allowed English clubs to compete at Europe top level.
The Premier League formed with 20 clubs. At the end of each season, the three bottom clubs are relegated to the Championship while the top clubs gain access to European Competitions.
1996 The Major League Soccer (MLS)
The Major League Soccer (MLS) enjoyed their debut in 1996. MLS signified a part commitment made by the soccer governing body in America (soccer USA) as part of the successful World Cup bid to host the event’s 1994 edition.
The administrators expected that MLS would build on the increased interest in soccer in America after hosting the 1994 World Cup. DC United emerged champions in the first season lifting the MLS Cup.
The MLS lacks the prestige of the top European Leagues. However, they have still attracted a host of international stars, including David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Kaka, Steven Gerrard and Hristo Stoichkov—to ply their trade in MLS.
2010 The Video Assistant Referee (VAR)
In 2010, the Refereeing 2.0 project gave birth to the video assistant referee (VAR).
During the Eredivisie 2012/13 campaign, the system got tested. KNVB requested the IFAB to amend the Laws of the Game by introducing the VAR. The request got approved.
The introduction of VAR would prevent referees from making mistakes. Besides, it would help teams from being wrongfully penalized.
A pitch-side monitor showed footage of potential foul/actions to avoid a wrongful decision.
The IFAB implemented on March 3, 2018, using VAR into the Laws of the Game. On November 15, 2018, the Premier League also voted in favor of the VAR.
The UEFA embraced the VAR in the UEFA Champions League 2019/20 season. The IFAB mentioned the implementation of VAR to be optional.
Soccer has endured a difficult journey to cement its place as the world’s most popular sport. Its roots can be traced back to over 2000 years, to various parts of the world.
The Chinese played an essential role in developing the sport, but the modern game improved in England.
The soccer of 1863 is very different from the game we play today. Technology and innovation contributed to the growth and reformation of the sport. So did diplomacy, negotiations, and common sense.
Soccer is a game of pride and passion. Clubs, national teams, and players enjoy iconic status and support among legions of fans worldwide.
We are thankful for both the on and off-field legends of the past. They created and left behind a tremendous legacy; this glorious sport we love to watch and play.